45 Percent of Americans Think Government is Good at Defending Freedom of Speech: Poll

A poll found that 45 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is doing a good job of protecting the freedom of speech, while 32 percent of Americans believe the government is doing a poor job, the Associated Press reported.

The poll was conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which sought to compare current American perspectives on the state of their rights to data from similar polls conducted in 2011 and 2015. The 45 percent of Americans who responded favorably regarding the government's defense of freedom of speech marked a decrease from the 71 percent who gave the same answer in 2011 and the 59 percent in 2015.

Fewer Americans also believe the freedom of religion is being adequately protected, with about half of respondents saying the government was doing a good job of defending the right compared to three-quarters of respondents who approved in 2011, the AP reported. It's a similar story for the right to equal protection under the law, with 27 percent of respondents saying the government was doing a good job of protecting the right compared to 48 percent in 2011.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. Capitol Building
Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, Americans were reasonably positive about the state of their rights and liberties. Today, after 20 years, not as much. That’s according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that builds on work conducted in 2011, one decade after the pivotal moment in U.S. history. Above, the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2021. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Dee Geddes, 73, a retiree in Chamberlain, South Dakota, said she was frustrated at the government's apparent lack of ability to safeguard the amount of private information available, especially online.

"It bothers me when I can go on the internet and find pretty much anything about anybody. It makes me feel sort of naked," said Geddes, who identifies as a Republican. "It does bother me how much the government knows about us, but that goes back to the fact that there's so much out there period. It's discouraging."

The poll also finds that 54 percent of Americans say it's "sometimes necessary for the government to sacrifice some rights and freedoms to fight terrorism," compared with 64 percent a decade ago. Now, 44 percent say that's never necessary at all.

A majority of Democrats say it's sometimes necessary, which is largely consistent with previous AP-NORC polls. But Republicans are now closely divided, with 46 percent saying it's sometimes necessary and 53 percent saying it's never necessary. In 2011, 69 percent of Republicans said it was sometimes necessary, and 62 percent said the same in 2015.

Brandon Wilson, 23, a business and animation student at College of DePage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, who described himself as a conservative, said he understood that steps taken after September 11 may have initially seemed to constrain Americans' rights, but that he ultimately felt the actions had been for the greater good.

"I think it's a good idea," Wilson said of measures such as increased airline passenger screening. "The government is helping the general public and, overall, trying to make people's lives better."

On the whole, though, Americans have grown more wary of government surveillance in the name of national security, the poll shows.

The poll asked about a variety of rights and liberties, including many of those outlined explicitly in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, as well as several protected by laws and court rulings.

It finds 44 percent now say the government is doing a good job protecting the freedom of the press, compared with 26 percent who think the government is doing a poor job. In both 2011 and 2015, about 6 in 10 said the government was doing a good job.

Americans are about equally divided on how the government is doing at protecting the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. About one-third say it's doing a good job and about one-third say it's doing a poor job. In 2011 and 2015, views were slightly more positive than negative, though less than half of Americans said the country was doing a good job.

Tony Gay, 60, a retiree who lives in Cincinnati, said that he generally supported the government's moves to protect civil liberties. He said his 10 years of Army service helped reinforce his opinion that sacrifice is sometimes necessary to safeguard freedoms.

"You can't have your freedom 24/7 if there's no one there to protect it," Gay said. "So when they put restrictions on travel, I'm all for that, because it's to make sure that I'm safe, and make sure that the person next to me is safe."

Forty-three percent of Americans think the U.S. government is doing a good job protecting the right to vote, while 37 percent say it's doing a poor job. By comparison, 70 percent said it was doing a good job in 2015 and 84 percent said the same in 2011.

Americans also are now divided on whether the government is doing a good or poor job protecting the right to bear arms, 35 percent to 36 percent, but in 2011, more said it was doing a good job than a poor one, 57 percent to 27 percent.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say the government is doing a good job of protecting several rights and freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press and the right to keep and bear arms.

But Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say the government is doing a poor job enforcing equal protection under the law, 54 percent to 46 percent. Views among Democrats and Republicans are largely similar on how well the government is protecting the right to vote, and the views among both have become notably less positive than in the earlier polls.

Even if he's relatively comfortable with the government's protection of basic civil liberties, Gay said he feels periodic review of the policies, and those making them, should be necessary.

"It's like when you're in politics, you have free rein," Gay said. "It gives me mixed feelings about who is watching over us."

Anti-Vaccine Protests
Fewer Americans in 2021 believe certain rights like the freedoms of speech and religion are not as protected by the government as in 2011. Above, a police officer watches as anti-vaccination protesters take part in a rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Santa Monica, California, on August 29, 2021. Ringo Chiu/AFP via Getty Images